The former head of marketing at Celotex has denied knowledge of a key change made to a testing rig that allowed its combustible RS5000 insulation product to pass a BS 8414 test, despite assertions from his former colleagues that he signed off on the decision.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard evidence from former Celotex product manager Jonathan Roper on Monday (16 November) that after a failed BS 8414 test in February 2014, Celotex added a 6mm magnesium oxide board combined with an 8mm Marley Eternit cladding panel adjacent to the fire barriers on the test rig, with thicker 12mm Marley Eternit cladding panels used on the remainder of the rig.
Roper said he was “fully aware at that stage that the rig was being overengineered to achieve a pass”.
He also claimed that he had provided colleague Paul Evans with slides about the May test to present at a Celotex management meeting, after which Evans had asked him to produce a shorter slideshow omitting details about the 6mm magnesium oxide board and the 8mm Marley Eternit cladding.
But giving evidence yesterday, Evans, who joined the company in 2007 as a product manager before becoming head of marketing in 2013 and marketing director in 2015 and was Roper’s line manager, said he believed it was Roper who had given the presentation at the management meeting.
He also denied being aware that the magnesium oxide board was used in the test rig that passed in May 2014 until three years later, in 2017.
Lead counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC asked Evans about a statement given by Evans’ former colleague Jamie Hayes, a technical services officer, who provided Roper with technical help as he sought to find ways to ensure that RS5000 was approved for use on buildings above 18m.
In a witness statement given by Hayes prior to the hearing, read out by Millett, Hayes recalled, following the failed February 2014 test, making the suggestion that an additional board of material was placed behind the cladding at the point of the fire barriers, which combined with thicker cladding, would increase the time took for fire to progress through the cladding and make it more likely to pass a subsequent test.
Hayes’s statement said: “JR [Jonathan Roper] and PE [Paul Evans] agreed to adopt this approach in principle, with PE having final sign-off. However, they also decided to amend the thickness of the cladding at the point where the additional material was placed, from 12mm to 8mm thick, to try and ensure continuity of the cladding surface across the rig.”
Millett asked Evans: “Do you recall that it was Mr Hayes who came up with the idea of placing a 6-millimetre magnesium oxide board behind the thickened cladding?”
Evans replied: “No. As I said, the only recollection I have of the change between the first test and the second test was the move to a thicker cladding panel.”
Millett then asked Evans if he agreed to adopt the approach in principle.
Evans said: “No, I wouldn’t have had final sign-off. I wouldn’t have given myself final sign-off, because…compared to the other individuals involved in that test and the designing and their knowledge, I wouldn’t have been confident giving any technical sign-off on the design of a new rig.”
Millett said: “Both Mr Roper and Mr Hayes recall the suggestion being made and you agreeing to it and having the final sign-off. Are you saying that they’re wrong in their recollection or simply that you don’t recall one way or the other?”
Evans said: “I would say they’re wrong, because I know from everything that’s happened, from the launch of the product through to what’s happened, not one point in any of that did I know about a 6-mil magnesium oxide board until I found a reference to it on my phone in November 2017.”
Millett asked: “Are you telling us you had no idea…about the addition of the 6-millimetre magnesium board behind the 8-mil, as it turned out, Marley Eternit Natura on the rig?”
Evans said: “The only thing I knew was that – that I recall is that we changed the thickness of the cladding panel.”
Millett once again asked Evans if he was sure, to which he replied he was.
Millett continued: “Be careful here. This isn’t just that you can’t recall one way or the other; you’re saying, are you, that both Mr Roper in his evidence yesterday [16 November] and Mr Hayes in his evidence here at paragraph 62 are false?”
Evans said: “What I’m saying is that I didn’t know that we had put a 6-mil magnesium oxide. I know there’s the NHBC discussion, which I’ve seen in my evidence as well, where information’s been given to me and I haven’t taken that information or understood that information for whatever reason, but I didn’t know that what we were doing here – – I didn’t know that we were doing it.”
Probed by Millett once again, Evans agreed that what Hayes and Roper had said about him agreeing to adopt the approach was false.
Later on in the hearing, Evans also disputed Roper’s assertion that he [Roper] had passed on instructions from Evans for the construction of a new test rig with the magnesium oxide board inserted on the fire barrier.
Millett went on to ask Evans about the slides produced by Roper for a May 2014 Celotex management meeting, the purpose of which was to brief former managing director Craig Chambers about the May test.
Despite Roper’s assertion that he had not been present at the meeting and that it was Evans who had presented the slides, Evans said he believed it had been Roper who had given the presentation.
The slides contained a reference to thicker, 12mm cladding used in the May test, as well as “Lamatherm barriers with 6mm magnesium oxide”.
Millett said: “So you did know that the 6-millimetre magnesium oxide was added to the May test?”
Evans replied: “I knew, looking at that, there would have been information given to me, but I didn’t know why we’d done it.”
Millett said: “I see. So I ’m just trying to understand your evidence earlier, when I showed you what Mr Hayes had said. Are you saying now that you did know there was a 6-millimetre magnesium oxide added to the second test or not?”
Evans replied: “On the basis of that being one slide presented to me now, but I wouldn’t have recalled at the time, and I didn’t recall and I would never have known why we were putting that extra magnesium oxide into the system.”
Millett said: “Well, now you have moved to a why. I want to know the what. You told us with some strenuousness not half an hour ago, Mr Evans, that you were not aware at all of a decision to add 6 millimetres of magnesium oxide to the test. Are you now saying that you were aware, as this slide shows?”
Evans said: “At the time of the test, I wasn’t aware that we had put 6-mil magnesium oxide into the second tested system. It would appear that this has then been communicated to the MAG [management action group], and I haven’t … it hasn’t – the penny hasn’t dropped with me.”
Millett said: “I’m sure you said to us earlier that you weren’t aware of the addition of a 6-millimetre magnesium oxide board until you saw a picture of it on your phone in 2017.”
Evans said: “Yes, sorry, I had forgotten it was on this presentation…I was trying to think of the other evidence that I had seen since with the benefit of having been given evidence provided to me to make my statement.”
Millett replied: “Mr Evans, I ’m not interested in your trying to piece different pieces of evidence together. What I want, please, from you is the truth, if you don’t mind.
“Let’s start again. I’ve shown you the slide. It comes to you on 14 May 2014 in the morning. I’ve shown you other evidence from other witnesses who have told and are going to tell the Inquiry that you knew all along about the 6-millimetre magnesium oxide board.
“Here is a slide that you saw on 14 May which identifies the addition of the 6-millimetre magnesium oxide board. Now, when did you become aware that the second test involved the addition of a 6-millimetre magnesium oxide board, please?”
Evans replied: “…Those bits of information haven’t registered with me what we’re doing. The only time I realised that what we had done had been a problem was when I saw the evidence, when I found it on my phone, some time in November 2017.”
Evans said he could not recall if there was any discussion at the management meeting of the 6mm magnesium board. He also said that he could not recall if he or Roper, depending on who gave the presentation, pointed out the differences between the February test and the May test.
Celotex company culture
When asked about the culture at Celotex at the time, Evans agreed that there was a “drive for revenue” as part of the plan to sell the business (it was eventually bought by Saint-Gobain).
Evans also agreed that the culture of driving growth “heightened” once Saint-Gobain became involved.
He explained how a target was set that 15% of sales had to come from Celotex’s 5000 range of products and that as a global entity, Saint-Gobain wanted 20% of sales to come from products launched within the last five years.
Speaking of the Celotex culture, he said: “The business just worked incredibly quickly and I don’t think had a culture of challenging… Challenging each other, challenging decisions that were being made. I think too many people were left to just do their job.”
Millett asked: “Did the culture of not challenging the dishonesty of decision-making ever change during your time?”
Evans replied: “Not as much as it should have done.”
In an opening statement given by Celotex at the start of module 2 of phase 2 of the Inquiry, it said: “Celotex recognises that the matters which emerged during its investigations involved inappropriate and unacceptable conduct on the part of a number of employees. This was of real concern to Celotex’s current management. Some of the employees involved had already left the company. Those who remained were the subject of disciplinary proceedings. Six employees resigned between December 2017 and March 2018.”
The Inquiry continues.